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The essential caress that rescues our humanity


The caress is one of the supreme expressions of tenderness which we dealt with in the previous article. Why do we say, the essential caress? Because we want to distinguish it from the caress as a pure psychological action, in function of a passing desire and without history. The caress-action does not involve the whole person. The caress is essential when it is transformed into an attitude, a way of being that defines one as a whole, in one’s psyche, thinking, will, one’s inner self, and relationships.

The organ of the caress is, fundamentally, the hand: the hand that touches, the hand that caresses, the hand that establishes relationships, that gives warmth, that brings calm. Through the hand and by the hand everyone reveals a tender mode of being. The caress touches the depth of the human being, where the personal Center is located. For the caress to be truly essential, one must cultivate the profound Self, the “I” that seeks the most intimate and truthful in ourselves, and not just the superficial ego of consciousness, always preoccupied with worries.

The caress that emerges from the Center produces repose, integration and trust. Hence its meaning. When caressing a child, a mother communicates the most guiding experience that exists: the fundamental trust in the goodness of life; the trust that deep down, and in spite of so many distortions, everything has meaning; the trust that peace is not a dream, that peace is the truest realization of life; the trust of shelter in the great Uterus.

Like tenderness, the caress demands total altruism, respect for the other and renunciation of any intention other than to like well and to love. It is not the skin to skin contact, but the giving of affection and love through the hand and skin, the skin that is our concrete self.

Affection does not exist without caresses, tenderness and caring. As the star must have an aura to shine, likewise affection needs the caress to survive. Caress of the skin, of the hair, of the hands, of the face, of the shoulders and of sexual intimacy, make affection and love concrete. The quality of the caress assures that the affection is not misleading, false or doubtful. The essential caress is as gentle as the soft opening of a door. There is no caress in the violence of slamming doors and windows, that is, in the invasion of the intimacy of a person.

Colombian psychiatrist Luis Carlos Restrepo, in his beautiful book on The Right to Tenderness, (El derecho a la ternura, Arango editores 2004), says: «The hand, a human organ par excellence, serves both to caress and to grab. The hand that grabs and the hand that caresses are two extreme facets of the possibilities of inter-human encounters».

In a wider cultural reflection, the hand that grabs embodies the way-of-being of the last four centuries, of the so-called modernity. The articulating axis of the modern paradigm is the will to grab everything, in order to posses and dominate. The whole Latin American Continent was grabbed and practically devastated by the religious and military invasion of the Iberians. And it extended to Africa, to China, to everything in the world that could be grabbed, and even to the Moon.

The modernists grabbed nature, dominating her, exploiting her goods and services with no consideration or respect for her limits, and without giving her the time to rest that would allow her to reproduce herself. Today we are harvesting the poisonous fruits of that practice, that lacks any type of caring or sense of caressing that which is alive and is vulnerable.

To grab is an expression of power, of manipulation, of turning the other or of things to my way of being.  Seen correctly, what has occurred is not a globalization that respects all cultures in their rich diversity. What has happened is a Westernization of the world, and in its most pedestrian form: the hamburgerization of the North-American life style, imposed on all corners of the planet.

The hand that caresses represents the necessary alternative: the caring-way-of-being, because «the caress is a hand full of patience, that touches without hurting and lets go, to allow mobility to the being with whom we enter into contact» (Restrepo).

In the present days it is urgent to rescue in human beings the dimension of the essential caress. It is within all of us, even if covered by a thick layer of materialistic ash, consumerism and futility. The essential caress returns to us our lost humanity. In its best meaning, it also strengthens the most universal ethical precept: to treat humanly each human being, this is, with understanding, acceptance, caring and with the essential caress.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,

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